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My Two Minds on the Hillary-Bernie Contest


by Andy Schmookler

Two true statements illustrate how I am of two minds where it comes to the Hillary-Bernie contest:

1) I will be voting for Bernie in the Virginia primary on March 1; and
2) I would be relieved if Hillary quickly wrapped up the nomination.

They are both true because different scenarios seem to me plausible, and my picture is clouded by uncertainties about how our nation’s political dynamics will play out.

I see these as times of enormous peril.

I’ve said it here many times in many ways: An extraordinarily destructive and pathological force has arisen on the right, and the response from Liberal America has been woefully weak, quite inadequate to protect the nation. The strategy that’s required of us now is See the evil. Call it out. Press the Battle.

We have been losing our democracy. Our planet’s health is in grave jeopardy. Something dramatic is necessary to turn this around.

Hillary’s leadership will not impart to our system any dramatic impetus. It’s not her way. And her standing with the American people is such that she will not be able to inspire the American people to give her the power to do anything dramatic to alter the status quo. She would work well with the power structure as it is in Washington to get done what’s possible given that status quo.

But I think Bernie’s right that what is needed now can’t be accomplished without a shake-up of that currently pathological power system in Washington. And I think it is possible that Bernie’s leadership might be able to accomplish that. At least at this point, his moral passion and integrity, his readiness for a real battle, and his intelligent and dogged straight-talking make that scenario plausible.

As Robert Reich has just written:

If both house of Congress remain in Republican hands, no Democrat will be able to get much legislation through Congress, and will have to rely instead on executive orders and regulations. But there’s a higher likelihood of kicking Republicans out if Bernie’s “political revolution” continues to surge around America, bringing with it millions of young people and other voters, and keeping them politically engaged.

So I am going to vote for Bernie, because that’s the only way I can be true to my belief about what is required in these times.

A thought has occurred to me regarding why my vote will be cancelled out by the votes of others here with whom I agree on a great deal, and whom I respect. Lowell for example.

I believe that there is an organic connection between our going in different directions on the Hillary-Bernie issue and our having an equally divergent opinion on the question, “Has Barack Obama been a successful president?” Lowell says yes, and I disagree.

I can see why some applaud the job Obama has done. I applaud many of the same things. But I regard his presidency as an opportunity so needlessly squandered as to constitute one of the great tragedies of American history.

If we take it as a given that the Republicans would succeed in taking power from the president by doing everything they could to make him fail, then yes, Obama has accomplished a lot.

But I don’t see it as a given at all that the Republicans would be rewarded rather than punished for their absolutely disgraceful behavior as an opposition party.

I don’t think that the Republicans’ sweep of the 2010 elections — by telling lies about the health care bill, and by being given a pass on the old Bush tax-cuts for the rich then soon coming up for renewal or termination – had to happen.

Nor do I see the Republican sweep in 2014 as inevitable, what with their enormous vulnerability over their obstructionism – the intentional disabling of the people’s government – left unexploited by Obama and the Democrats.

One must make scandal out of the scandalous, and one must disgrace the disgraceful. This, Obama never did.

And so he ended up for most of his term being a president unable to accomplish anything legislatively, forced to retreat to the fortress of executive powers.

I applaud what he’s done with those powers. But the American people rewarding the Republicans — with not only the Congress but also all those governorships and state legislatures – need not have been.

Obama’s stature at the outset that might have enabled him to be a transformative president. But he strangely forfeited that stature, and that potential power, within the first year. (See this piece, published in the Baltimore Sun, near the end of the first year of Obama’s presidency, exhorting him to take up the battle against the Republicans relentlessly attacking him.)

That was the American tragedy.

Leadership has the potential to take what seems to be a given and replace it with something else. (I’ve read now some dozen biographies of FDR, and they show how it can be done.)

Hillary, I feel confident, would not be that kind of transformative leader. She will be competent. She will work (mostly) for the good. But she will not galvanize the nation to change the basic dynamic.

Bernie might.

So why would I feel relieved for Hillary to quickly wrap up the nomination?

First, because “Bernie might” implies a gamble. I agree about some of the concerns about his electability. I also don’t feel sure how well, if elected, he’d be able to use the “bully pulpit” that would be essential for his “political revolution.”

And second, because it seems possible (though quite far from certain) that the problem on the right is taking care of itself.

Everyone is talking these days about how the Republican Party is falling apart. In history and in myth one can see this pattern: how it is in the nature of evil to end up consuming its own tools and vessels. (See this piece about this pattern, and how it applied to the G.W. Bush presidency.)

(Or, to put it another way, the force that has taken over the Republican Party may be about to lose despite the failure of the Democrats to defeat it. It reminds me of the “defeat” of the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, in which the humans had proven impotent to combat the invaders, but the microbes infected them and wiped out that fearsome alien force.)

So perhaps a President Hillary Clinton would walk out onto a political battlefield in which her enemies have been so weakened that her strengths as a smart, caring, competent leader will suffice.


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